From what I learned, I can get a Pennsylvania driver’s license without further tests (besides) vision, given that I have a German license, due to a reciprocal agreement between Pennsylvania and Germany.

A lot of places on the internet say that I will have to surrender my German license. But I very confidentially recall reading that a recent change in legislation (possibly a federal law or court ruling) states that one may keep a foreign drivers license. Unfortunately, I cannot find where I read about this.

Can anyone confirm the existence of such a ruling? Also, can someone manage to find the actual text of the reciprocity agreement between Pennsylvania and Germany?

I'm on a J-1 visa, but not as a student, but Post-Doc.

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    Are you certain that that is the exact process? Generally, the valid foreign-issued driving license is accepted as proof of being granted the right to drive, and the State road test is waived. It is licenses from other US states which have to be surrendered.
    – Giorgio
    Commented Sep 5, 2016 at 19:39
  • I am not certain, but I have been warned by some who had to turn in their German license, some years ago. I guess I can say more in a few days, after visiting the place. Commented Sep 5, 2016 at 20:31
  • Can't confirm the ruling, but unlikely in my experience. The reason for the surrender is so you don't pull out the foreign licence if you have a violation/accident, knowing it is unlikely to ever reach your home country and keep your US one clear. Commented Sep 6, 2016 at 12:45
  • At least Georgia clearly states that out-of-country licenses may be kept: dds.ga.gov/drivers/Dldata.aspx?con=1746671759&ty=dl Commented Sep 6, 2016 at 17:02
  • @JoachimBreitner unless there is a supreme court ruling, each state can make its own rules about surrender of foreign licenses. (Similarly, an appeals court ruling on the question would bind all the states in that court's circuit.) So it is likely that the situation in Georgia has no bearing on the situation in Pennsylvania.
    – phoog
    Commented Aug 21, 2017 at 20:51

3 Answers 3


Here is the relevant section of the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation regulations that references the reciprocity agreement with Germany (emphasis mine):


• Individuals who possess a valid foreign driver's license from their country are authorized to drive in Pennsylvania for up to one year from their date of entry into the United States, or upon expiration of their foreign license, whichever comes first. International driving permits are strongly recommended, but not required. Reciprocity agreements exist with the countries of France and Germany allowing for the transfer of a valid non-commercial driver’s license without Road or Knowledge testing; however, a Vision Test will be administered. (Transfer of a driver’s license from Puerto Rico, France, or Germany cannot be completed the same day.)

• People living in Pennsylvania who are at least 16 years of age and want to drive a motor vehicle.

• People who just moved into Pennsylvania and are establishing Pennsylvania residency - if you hold a valid driver’s license from another state or Canada, you must get a Pennsylvania driver’s license within 60 days after moving to Pennsylvania and surrender your out-of-state driver’s license.

The first bullet point applies to your circumstances, which makes no mention of having to surrender that license. The third point describes individuals who have a driving license issued by another state in the USA. Additionally, the non-immigrant visa documentation you'll be required to provide supports that you are not relocating permanently.

UPDATE: after Facebook messaging the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT):

If he chooses to have a PA license, he will have to surrender the German license, which will be sent back to the DMV in Germany.

The process is as follows: He would come in with a completed application for PA license. He would then have his German license verified by the German DMV, and have his immigration status verified at the same time – this process can take several weeks, depending on how long it takes Germany to get back to our us with a positive response on his German license.

Once verified, he would be eligible for his PA license, but he would have to surrender his German license at that time, which we would return to the German DMV. Presumably he would be allowed to get that German license back upon his return to Germany.

Please also note, though, that a valid foreign driver’s license is acceptable to drive in PA for one year from the date of your most recent entry, or the expiration of your foreign driving license, whichever ends sooner. The one-year time frame starts anew every time you enter the U.S.

If choosing the second option, [he] could also obtain an International Driving Permit from an issuing entity in Germany. While the IDP is not required in PA, we do recommend it so he could present it in the event of any traffic stop by law enforcement.

  • Uh, yes it does- "allowing for the transfer of a valid non-commercial driver’s license " transfer as in you transfer from the foreign licence to the US one, you don't get the US one in addition. Commented Sep 6, 2016 at 12:43
  • Right, I did find that text (and already printed it out so that when I go there, I have something to point to). But it is not completely clear, as @TheWanderingDevManager points out. Commented Sep 6, 2016 at 14:03
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    @Joachim Breitner: As you're entering on a non-immigrant visa for a specific purpose and time period, the State is not going to take away your right to drive in your own country when you return there. Compare it to the same privilege given to Americans in Germany: they can obtain a German license and their US license is not surrendered.
    – Giorgio
    Commented Sep 6, 2016 at 14:59
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    Thanks for the research! Since I will travel abroad at least once a year, this means I’ll just keep my German license, and apply for a non-drivers’ license ID for ID purposes. Commented Sep 8, 2016 at 2:29
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    @Joachim Breitner: and suggest that your uni add it to the content on its web site.
    – Giorgio
    Commented Sep 8, 2016 at 3:42

I've just got my German driver's license transferred to the Pennsylvanian one with the German license surrendered. The detailed information about the transfer especially that the foreign driver's license being taken is not clear on the website. I was also not explained either upon my first visit to pennDOT, inquiring about the transfer.

  • That's unfortunate. That license could still be of immense value, especially when visiting the EU. They should really put these details clearly somewhere on their website. I'd complain, or make a suggestion, if I were you.
    – ouflak
    Commented Aug 22, 2017 at 6:33

The best thing would actually be to take the driving test. Anyone from Europe should have no problem in passing the US driving test. That way, your German license will never be considered and you can keep and use your German license when visiting Europe.

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